Robust manipulation of the behavior of Drosophila melanogaster by a fungal pathogen in the laboratory
Many microbes induce striking behavioral changes in their animal hosts, but how they achieve this is poorly understood, especially at the molecular level. Mechanistic understanding has been largely constrained by the lack of a model system with advanced tools for molecular manipulation. We recently discovered a strain of the behavior-manipulating fungal pathogen Entomophthora muscae infecting wild Drosophila, and established methods to infect D. melanogaster in the lab. Lab-infected flies manifest the moribund behaviors characteristic of E. muscae infection: hours before death, they climb upward, extend their proboscides and affix in place, then raise their wings, clearing a path for infectious spores to launch from their abdomens. We found that E. muscae invades the fly nervous system, suggesting a direct means by which the fungus could induce behavioral changes. Given the vast molecular toolkit available for D. melanogaster, we believe this new system will enable rapid progress in understanding the mechanistic basis of E. muscaes behavioral manipulation in the fly.
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